Twitter status: anyone need help?

A fallen tree obstructs over two lanes of Smokey Park Highway

So what do you do when you have 16 inches of snow, no power, no internet, no heat, very few candles, no extra batteries and no ability to hop in the car and go buy supplies?

This weekend in Western North Carolina, I was again reminded that social media is transforming our world for the better – and inspired to make an effort to participate in non-professional ways.

I love a good snow, but when it overwhelmed our community in rural Western North Carolina, the decision 2 years ago to move 3 small children into a home on a hill in the stix with no fireplace, gas or oil heat backup suddenly seemed downright silly. After all, we live in the mountains and occasionally, all icy hell does break loose.

My wife and I have iPhones and despite constant flickers, AT&T maintained service. Updates coming in from @progressenergy, @citizen-times, @mountainxpress and others made it possible for us to ascertain the reality of the situation at higher and lower altitudes. Using SMS with friends, we were able to identify what stores had opened (Lowes on Smokey Park Hwy was first) where we could find critically needed supplies. We were able to follow the power outages (67,000 outages in Buncombe County) and plan for the worst.

But as a social community in #WNC, I realize in retrospect that many of us could have been more helpful in our use of the tools.

Twitter has become a global institution largely because of how it has been used in disaster recovery situations.

Most of the local tweeting I found during the last 3 days consisted of jokes, complaints and tips on how to accomplish such fine tasks as preparing eggs on barbecue grill. That’s all fine, and I definitely tweeted my share of nonsense, but in retrospect, there were a lot of young families, elderly and disabled people who really could have used a delivery of groceries, candles or heat packs. News reports guesstimate that there were hundreds of stranded motorists who lost control of their cars in the snow and had to walk as much as 2 miles to find shelter (sans power).

So here are a few things I would have done differently if I had had my head screwed on properly during the snow:

  1. Use twitter to identify people in the area who needed help. This includes simply asking the question: anyone need help?
  2. Use twitter to send more useful/vital information to journalists and city crews (yes, both categories use twitter in small numbers)
  3. When I found businesses that were open while most were not, I could have used twitter to announce (and ask that others retweet) said locations.
  4. When spotting downed trees and blocked roads (there were so many), I could have used twitter to issue warnings to others so they could find detours.

We should work with the county to propose ways to incorporate social media into its community-wide response plan for any future #avlsnomg-type situations. Any ideas? Would love any input that is offered.

:) – IB

One Response to “Twitter status: anyone need help?”

  1. Jennifer Saylor says:

    Ian, my response is over on Ashvegas. Thanks for this excellent post.

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